Cushman & Wakefield must pay a former systems analyst, who was 63 at the time of his termination, $1.3 million in damages, after the Justices rejected the company’s final appeal.

Rinsky v. Cushman & Wakefield involved some technical questions. As a result of the Court’s ruling, age discrimination plaintiffs may pursue claims under either federal or state law. Additionally, regarding punitive damages, plaintiffs are not required to present additional evidence of wrongful conduct. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reviews about 18,000 age bias claims every year.


Establishing Age Discrimination Claims

Shortly after Congress approved some modest extensions to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Supreme Court sharply limited the ADEA in 1993’s Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins. The Justices ruled that age must have “had a determinative influence” on any adverse action. Because of this decision, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does not pursue these matters as aggressively as it once did.

Once the plaintiff presents a prima facie discrimination case, the employer may rebut the allegation in one of several ways:

  • BFOQ: Some positions have an age-related bona fide occupational qualification. For example: A young actor must play a young role. Courts have also upheld extreme age restrictions among airline pilot and other common carrier hiring’s or terminations.
  • Business Necessity: This defense is rather common in disability claims, but rare in age bias claims. If the employer had a legitimate business need for a younger worker, a court might uphold the adverse action.
  • Nondiscriminatory Reason: Things get tricky here. Frequently, when companies downsize, they terminate older employees who make more money than younger workers. Courts rarely uphold such adverse actions.

The adverse action is almost always refusal to hire or a wrongful termination. The ADEA generally does not prohibit employer preferences, even if the preferred worker is under 40 and the plaintiff is over 40. Workers older than 40 are in a protected class.


Remedies Available

When people lose their jobs, they need financial compensation. An attorney normally can obtain compensation for a wide range of economic losses, such as back pay, job search expenses, and perhaps even moving expenses.

Additional punitive damages are often available in age discrimination claims. The plaintiff must show that the employer intentionally disregarded the law. Thanks to the ruling in Rinsky, the plaintiff need only prove this point by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).

Reinstatement is usually available in wrongful termination claims. If reinstatement is not appropriate for whatever reason, the court may award front pay. That’s a reasonable amount of compensation the plaintiff would have earned in future months.

Perhaps most importantly, age discrimination plaintiffs receive justice. These cases usually include consent decrees which require employers to be more sensitive to the needs of older workers and change the way they do business.

Age discrimination claims are difficult, but not impossible, to win. For a confidential consultation with an experienced Greenville SC employment law attorney, contact the Briggs Law Firm. Our main office is conveniently located in downtown Greenville.

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